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Wouldn’t you like to give your children a head start in the coming school year? Dr Jason Mallia shows you how.
Going back to school, or the first day at a new school, can be a stressful time for children. They have a lot to deal with, including new teachers, new friends, new rules and a bombardment of new information. And all this has to be taken in and dealt with in a very short space of time! It’s therefore not unusual for excitement and anticipation to be combined with a certain level of anxiety, and even dread, about the tasks and situations that lie ahead. Fortunately there are some great solutions in naturopathic medicine.
GET THE BRAIN FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS!It is well documented that certain herbs can support brain function and help in dealing with stress. These include Bacopa monnieri (brahmi), Ginkgo biloba and gotu kola. These medicinal herbs have been shown to improve memory and learning in children by balancing brain neurotransmitters such as dopamine, acetylcholine and serotonin. Balancing brain chemicals goes a long way towards improving focus, concentration and memory.
DEALING WITH STRESS AND ANXIETYIt’s important to address any stress or anxiety that a child is experiencing at the beginning of a new school year, as these have been shown to interfere with confidence, attention and behaviour. Untreated anxiety can lead to inattention and behavioural issues, contributing to ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Herbs such as passion flower, German chamomile and Ziziphus have a calming effect while improving focus and behaviour. In combination these herbs can help children get to sleep more easily, as well as deal with daytime anxiety.
Adequate nutrition is essential in supporting the brain. Valuable vitamins and minerals include zinc, magnesium, iron, B-vitamins, folate and vitamin C. Discuss dosages with your naturopathic physician.Iron is especially important, and is a key nutrient for the brain. It is often found to be deficient in children with ADD and ADHD, and is essential for energy production. Low iron or ferritin stores predispose to lethargy, irritability, apathy, fatigue and inability to concentrate.Along with a balanced diet, it is crucial that the above nutrients are included in a back-to-school health programme. Many companies now manufacture multivitamin and mineral supplements specially tailored to children’s needs, which can be taken in a child-friendly form with all the necessary nutrients in one convenient capsule.
FISH EQUALS BETTER BRAINS!The many benefits of essential fatty acids are well documented for balanced and optimal brain function, enhanced learning and normal visual function.It is therefore recommended to children and teenagers who have learning difficulties and to students under high pressure. It is, however, essential that the essential fatty acids come from purified fish oil, as fish oil may be contaminated by heavy metals such as mercury. Some manufacturers of fish oil guarantee its quality by using a special nitrogen flushing system, but others do not, and such products could be harmful to your child. So be sure to check your fish oil source.
DIET Unfortunately children tend not to eat enough oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines, so it is important to encourage consumption of these as much as possible. It’s best to select small fillets, and to minimise consumption of deep-sea fish as these have been shown to have the highest mercury content. If all else fails, opt for a supplement. Your naturopathic physician will recommend a good one.
Breakfast on brain food It is essential for children to start the day with a nutritious breakfast packed with vitamins, minerals and protein. There are many commercial cereals on the market that promise a lot but contain high levels of sugar, which can affect concentration. Whole-grain cereals make the best breakfast!Protein is essential for brain balance and acuity, as it is responsible for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Eggs make a wonderful breakfast – they are a complete protein and contain all the essential amino acids to maintain healthy blood sugar levels throughout the morning.Sometimes eating breakfast just feels like too much too early, and if this is a problem for your child, a smoothie is a great way to ensure intake of protein in the morning. Blend cow’s milk (whole or skim) or goat’s milk with a dollop of yoghurt, fruit such as berries or banana, extras such as lecithin granules, soy, rice or whey protein, and even any supplements the child may be taking.
SLEEP Children need more sleep than adults, especially during their earlier school years, and lack of sleep can affect learning ability. So be sure to get them off to bed at a reasonable time – between 7.30 and 8 p.m. is optimal.A regular schedule is important and will help to keep stress levels down at the beginning and end of the day.
Last but not least, don’t forget to encourage creative expression and expression of the emotions. This not only develops communication skills in the long term but improves insight into how the child is doing on a daily basis.
DR JASON MALLIAwww.integratedhealth.com.au
Dr Mallia is a leading Sydney-based integrative medicine practitioner with over two decades of clinical experience. He is a multiple author having recently released his part biography/self help book The Wounded Healer: find your health, discover your clarity live your purpose.He is the director and principal clinician of Integrated Health Australia.
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